Titanic, a musical based on the doomed maiden voyage of the luxurious passenger ship by the same name, opens at the 460-seat Westchester Broadway Theatre in Elmsford, New York, on January 16, 2014. The new adaptation of the 1997 Broadway play will run through February 23 at the dinner-theater.
The tale of the Titanic has special meaning to me. When I was a college student, I wrote about the sinking of the Titanic and the role played by Brigadier General David L. Sarnoff in informing the world about the disaster.
I was the editor of The Prattler, the Pratt Institute (Brooklyn) school newspaper, when I first met and interviewed Sarnoff, an electronics industry pioneer and a Pratt trustee at the time. A former Pratt student, Sarnoff was 21 when he had enrolled in Pratt's night electrical engineering curriculum while working daytime for American Marconi.
On April 4, 1912, employed as a telegraph operator at Marconi's New York City location in the Wanamaker (a department store) tower, he picked up and deciphered a Morse Code message from a radio operator on board the S.S. Olympic, 1,400 miles away. The message was: "S.S. Titanic ran into iceberg. Sinking fast."For three days and nights without leaving his post, Sarnoff provided the world with the names of the survivors and other details. To help him communicate with the S.S. Carpathia without any airways interference, after the Carpathia arrived at the scene, all U.S. radio stations were ordered shut down by President William Howard Taft.
Because of the Titanic tragedy, Congress mandated that all ships carrying 50 or more passengers had to be equipped with radio transmission equipment.
Sarnoff’s role in reporting the disaster brought a dramatic increase in business to Marconi.
He joined the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) as general manager when it was created in 1919, following the purchase of the assets of American Marconi from British Marconi by the General Electric Company. He subsequently became president of RCA and also headed the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), formed in 1926.
In December, 1944, the Television Broadcasters Association named Sarnoff, “The Father of American Television."
During my senior year at Pratt, I enclosed a copy of a signed personal note I had received from Sarnoff with a job application I submitted to RCA. I was hired and worked at RCA for six years.
In early 1964, two years after I left RCA, I joined the editorial staff of a McGraw-Hill magazine called Electronics and became its solid-state editor (assigned to cover the semiconductor industry and Silicon Valley).
Magazine cover story
The following year I was one of a few editors asked to suggest candidates for the cover story for the 35th Anniversary Issue, scheduled for publication on April 19, 1965. I submitted just one name, David L. Sarnoff, and he was chosen for the cover photo and story.
Electronics (the magazine) no longer exists. In the same 1965 issue bearing Sarnoff's cover photo, we first brought Moore’s Law to the attention of the electronics industry by publishing an article called “Cramming More Components Onto Integrated Circuits."
The article, written by Fairchild Semiconductor co-founder (and three years later later Intel co-founder) Gordon Earle Moore, predicted that the number of components in a monolithic integrated circuit would double every year for at least ten years. This prophecy turned out to be accurate and Moore’s Law eventually became part of semiconductor folklore.
If the Titanic hadn't hit the iceberg, would Sarnoff still have had his legendary career?
Sarnoff died in 1971 at the age of 80 and is buried at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla in Westchester County, NY.
Original play received multiple Tony awards
In the revival of the Broadway production opening at the Westchester Broadway Theatre, original cast member Don Stephenson, who portrayed Charles Clarke in the 1997 Broadway production of Titanic, directs a new staging that employs a cast of 20.
The musical opened in the spring of 1997 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in Manhattan, and later earned Tony Awards for Best Book (Peter Stone), Best Score (Maury Yeston), Best Orchestrations (Jonathan Tunick), Best Scenic Design (Stewart Laing) and Best Musical.
Westchester Broadway Theatre, 1 Broadway Plaza, Elmsford, NY, 914-592-2268.